Wes Chatham Talks Filming 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'

Wes Chatham Talks Filming 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2'

We visited the Swan House in Atlanta to talk to Georgia native We Chatham about his role in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. The Swan House was used to film many of the scenes involving President Snow's mansion. We sat in Snow's office as we chatted with Chatham, who plays Castor, a soldier tasked with making propaganda films for the rebellion.


Shakefire (SF): How did you land the role of Castor?

Wes Chatham (WC): It was really a special moment. The casting director Debbie Zane, she was a casting director that I’ve been close with on other jobs over the years. We’ve gotten to know each other, and she’s got to know my work really well. So when they were looking to cast Castor and Pollux, my twin brother, she brought my name up to Francis Lawrence, the director, and said, “I think him and Elden [Henson] would really fit well in this role and their dynamic together,” and he agreed. I had no idea any of this was going on, and then they called and said, “Would you like to be a part of this thing?” Uh, yeah! Absolutely!


SF: You’re from Atlanta. What was it like to come back home and film here? Was it surreal?
WC: Definitely. I left here so long ago, but all my family and friends are all here, and I come back as much as I can to visit and spend time. But my work life has existed outside of this so it’s almost two different worlds. Doing this movie, both worlds collided. It was just a really weird but amazingly wonderful experience. I got to share this great experience with my family and with my friends, and they got to come be a part of everything. It’s a dream come true, quite simply. It’s really great to be here in Georgia doing all this.


SF: You have a military background. Do you think this role came to you naturally?
WC: Yes, I definitely think the military training helped tremendously in a lot of different ways. One of the ways is the technical way of handling weapons and how you would walk and do things. But it also gives you the discipline to thrive in a structured environment like movie making.


SF: Your role specifically is more of a war photographer rather than a soldier. Did you look at them for research?
WC: Yeah, I did. I really kinda looked at documentary filmmaking and documentary filmmakers and how they use images to tell their story to make the point they’re trying to make. That’s a good point, because I was really focused on making these propaganda films. I wasn’t in there for war or combat. I really focused on the art of making films and cameras and lighting and angles, and I kinda learned that and it really helped what we were doing?


SF: Did you actually get to use a camera and capture any footage?
WC: No, haha. I think there was one moment or one scene we did have kinda a camera thing, but there was usually a camera from our perspective that they let a professional do so we wouldn’t screw it up.


SF: The media plays a huge part in the films and is just as big as the war itself. Did you being part of the media give you a different perspective on how media operates in society?
WC: Yeah, I think particularly Mockingjay - Part 1 is really about the media and manipulation and how they create narratives and stories that aren’t necessarily close to the truth. I think in doing that kinda study, realizing that it’s really a commentary on how the media is today, as opposed to like a fictional way of looking at things. I really reiterated and opened my eyes to a lot of things.


SF: Have you read the books?
WC: Yes. I didn’t read until I found out about the job, and then I went a read all the books. My wife is a huge fan of The Hunger Games. I remember sitting in bed and she was reading. I was like, “What are you reading?” and she was like, “Oh this book with these kids. They kill each other for food.” I was like, “What!? What is this!?”


SF: We get to see more of Castor’s relationship with his brother Pollux in this film.  Did you and Elden learn real sign language for the film?
WC: So Francis said he wanted us to create a way of communicating that isn’t really recognizable. The sign language they use is based on real sign language, but we put our own spin on it. It’s basically a way that twin brothers will develop communication if one doesn’t speak. So me and Elden got together and worked on that for a while like what this means and what that means, but it’s very basic in how we did that. It was just to create a history in the way we communicate with each other.


SF: Castor and Pollux get their names from Greek mythology. Did you at all research any of the Greek myths associated with them?
WC: I did. I did read a little about that. I think it’s interesting, too, how through stories post that where there’s a lot of brother dynamics...if you go back and look at movies where they use the Castor and Pollux brother situation it’s a recurring theme and recurring narrative in a lot of things they do. But so much of our work’s been influenced by Greek mythology and the Romans.


SF: Was that the most interesting scene for you to film or do you have another favorite?
WC: I think the scene where Elden sees the tunnel for the first time and I have to comfort him and tell him it’s going to be okay; I think that was the most interesting. We don’t say a lot during the film so we have to communicate this history of being brothers and the love that we have together. We have to communicate that with just our looks. That was a really interesting and a challenge trying to achieve that.


SF: Can you talk more about the sewer scene. It very much had an Aliens feel to it with the long, dark corridors and tight spaces. Was that how Francis Lawrence envisioned it?
WC: Yes. Francis is very specific in what he creates to help the narrative or make sense for the narrative. But these long, dark tunnels were all created. These were all sets. In this movie in general, the sets were so impressive and such a crazy thing to be a part of. But being in these long tunnels, and there are points where we climb in a hole and it’s water. It’s dark and you’re trying to stand up. The way the claustrophobic feeling, and the way being wet, being in the dark, and being hunched over, and not seeing anything, and having to see by flashlight for three weeks, it really was conducive for getting into character and getting into the situation that was happening in the moment.


SF: You got the chance to be on screen with a bunch of greats; Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, etc. Did you learn anything from being able to be around all these experienced actors?
WC: Yes, I really learn from every actor I work with. Sometimes I learn what not to do or how not to behave. But in this instance it was really special, because it was all people that I admire, that I look up to. They were all so different in how they approached their work and how they do their work, but they’re so good at what they do. When you’re in an ensemble like that it makes you better at what you do. If you’re playing basketball with really good basketball players you’re going to rise up and be a better basketball player. It’ll make you better for that. In this situation I was very fortunate to be able to work with these veterans and these really wonderfully talented people. I think it’s definitely helped me in my work a lot.


SF: Who was the most fun person to work with? Any funny stories from on set?
WC: Everybody was really funny. It was a very social set. In terms of characters that just made you laugh I think Jen and Woody Harrelson. And a funny story? I guess you can actually YouTube it. They were doing press for Mockingjay - Part 1 and Jen, Liam, and Josh were telling a story about how clumsy I was on set. I guess I am clumsy, but a lot of the sets there’s some stuff that’s real and there’s some stuff they add on that’s not real. So we were doing this scene in Berlin, shooting in these old World War II barracks. We run up the stairs, and we run back down. We run up the stairs, and we run back down. We were doing take after take. Well I was just bored, and I was going to jump on a wall; this huge high wall. I was going to jump on the wall and walk down. And when I jumped on the wall I realized the wall was styrofoam. I jumped and fell right through it. Everyone was like, “Are you alright?” and I was just hanging there like, ‘Ahhh..” So they had to come and pull me out of it; that was pretty embarrassing.


SF: This was filmed back-to-back with Mockingjay - Part 1. Does it feel like it was ages ago? How does it feel revisiting it now?
WC: In some ways yes. As soon as I finished that I did this series called The Expanse. And if you liked Aliens check out this series. It premieres December 14th. I did that, and then I did this movie in Thailand. I was focused on other jobs so now you come back to The Hunger Games and it’s like kinda visiting an old house you used to live in that you really loved. That’s what it feels like right now, being able to be around the people that you got really close with that you haven’t seen in a while to talk about a movie that you love so much. The fan support for this is unbelievable, and it’s all warm. It’s excited to be apart of that situation again.


SF: This is the final movie. How is it for you now that the franchise is coming to an end?
WC: I think on a personal level, spending every day with these people for nine months, it was a sad feeling because we’ll never have that day-to-day routine again. On a storytelling level, I feel really satisfied with what we did and how we concluded this story. All of us worked our heart outs for the fans because they’ve been so supportive and so behind us that it was very important to us. I think we achieved it. That was really satisfying.


SF: Judging from this experience, would you be open to doing another franchise? It seems like a lot of actors are split about that.
WC: It depends. If it’s something of this caliber, yes. I just want to tell good stories. If it’s something that is as well done as this, yes. But it wouldn’t make sense to be a part of something that is less.


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 opens in theaters on Friday, November 20.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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